John Darnielle, the mastermind behind raconteur rockers the Mountain Goats, is at his best when he’s writing songs about people who aren’t him. Case in point: the unhappy north Florida homeowners the band sings about on its 2002 album Tallahassee. When his song’s characters look nothing like Darnielle, they’re murdered wrestlers and teenage acid pushers; when they do resemble the songwriter, the songs are about whether Darnielle’s alter ego drank a whole pot of coffee (seriously). So it’s a good sign that Sean, the reclusive protagonist of Darnielle’s debut novel Wolf in White Van, is nothing like his author. After an injury leaves him disfigured and living like a hermit, Sean designs a play-by-mail game about a dystopic future America. But as Sean’s game pulls in new players, things take an unexpected turn. The same lyricism found in Darnielle’s best songs is worked into the novel; expect to find some beauty amid the darkness. John Darnielle reads at 6:30 p.m. at Busboys and Poets Brookland, 625 Monroe St. NE. Free. (202) 636-3563. busboysandpoets.com.

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